Sometimes we don’t need words to communicate love....
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SHARING SHADOWS AND SMILES
Just like that, he woke up. After three days, Dad woke up. The heaviness that has weighed my heart down lately is gone, my step a little lighter. I feel grateful to have been able to have more time with my Dad.
This morning, I saw a man walking in the early sunshine as I drove past Forest Hill Park on the way to work. My first thought when I saw this solitary figure was I wish I was a child again. I wish my dad and I were walking in the park, holding hands and sharing shadows.
After I got to the office, I was able to focus on my work and cross things off my to-do list. I even shared a laugh or two with my colleagues.
Then the hospice nurse called again. Her comforting voice shared her stark observations. His vitals are good, but Dad is weak and tired. He’s tired. She kept saying it, like he’s tired of being here and ready to go. So, off to the nursing home I went after picking my mother up and taking her to see him. In the day room, he seemed blank in his delicate state but was able to eat the pureed meal the attendant was helping him with. As I sat in the corner, I watched as my mother took over and lovingly spoon-fed the man she has been married to for 63 years.
Afterwards, I wheeled my dad down the long hallway to his room. I told him I had to go back to get Mom and asked if he’d be alright for just a couple of minutes. His faint voice said yes. I was turning Mom's wheelchair into his room in no time, and Dad motioned with his hand as if to say, “Come on, there’s room to get around me here.” We sat and ate our fast food meal as we talked to him.
I hadn’t seen him smile in so long. It’s as if this disease has taken his emotions hostage. But there is no ransom demand and my family is left with a dim likeness. I don’t know what I was doing or what precipitated it, but I looked over to see Dad smiling. A simple, genuine joy radiated from his face. And in that moment, I felt his love for me.
We don’t know how long he will be around. We are just taking it day by day. That’s all anyone can ask for. That, to me, is a gift.
I always feared that call. The call came today. The hospice nurse was with my dad at the nursing home. He’s not responsive and may be “transitioning.” She kept talking and my mind stopped hearing, wondering what “transitioning” means. He could bounce back, she said, but he may be entering the dying phase. I felt nauseous.
In the moment before I left his bedside this afternoon, I watched him for a long moment. His body in deep slumber, his face was peaceful. Maybe he couldn’t acknowledge that I was there or respond to my words, but I think he could hear me. And no matter what selfish wishes I have in wanting him to stay here, I know I’ll have to face what's coming. I’ll have to let go.
I am that person. The one full of regret for not having paid attention to my dad’s words when I was younger. For not spending more time with him. Do I even know who he is? He’s still here. He’s still relevant. That I do know. And in trying to resolve my guilt-ridded mind — in trying to separate the tsunami of emotion that wants to drown me — I know he is everything to me.
His body is beginning to separate from the physical world. I don’t understand it and as uncomfortable as I am in knowing the end is nearing, it all seems very natural. And, as strange as it sounds, even to me, I find that very nature comforting. We are born. We live. We love. We die.
Right now, my selfish self hopes for a moment of clarity where he knows I’m there. My realistic self knows I have no control. Control doesn’t exist in the natural world. I feel like I, too, am transitioning into a place I don’t yet know how to navigate. I don’t know whether to cry or avoid thinking about it. And that’s ok. Whatever will come will come at the right time. In the meantime, I need hugs and prayers. And most of all, love.